Chicago’s Cinepocalypse genre festival started off with a bolt of lightning this week — the birth of a bona fide cult hit, one that had its audience laughing and cheering from start to finish. Following in the tradition of Ed Wood and Tommy Wiseau, Verotika beguiled viewers with its stupefying notion of violent-erotic horror filmmaking — if only writer-director Glenn Danzig meant for it to happen.
Let’s set the stage, to which Danzig arrived 40 minutes late. Being the legendary front man of the Misfits, he got a standing ovation just for showing up. He began to introduce the film, first musing about his love for horror and his long-tended desire to become a filmmaker. Verotika, he explained, was an anthology film based on his controversial Verotik comic book series, and was inspired by films like Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. Declaring himself a true independent filmmaker, Danzig promised that there would be no beach scenes in the picture he was about to screen. Not one Hollywood producer had intervened in the course of making Verotika, he made clear; his vision was uncompromised. As for his tardiness, he said he got caught up editing a few glitches before the festival, and while there may still be a few in the presented cut, he promised that viewers would “get the gist of it.”
The first story in Verotika revolves around a murderous albino spider (played by actor Scotch Hopkins) who takes the form of a pasty humanoid with eight legs. This is his reality ever since he encountered a sex worker named Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), who has eyes for nipples — nipple eyes that are capable of crying, no less! — and whose tears are apparently quite dangerous. From there, the predatory man-spider ventures from one harshly lit set to the next, vengefully snapping the necks of other sex workers along the way. All of the actors have terrible French accents, which is strange because at one point you can see the words “LOS ANGELES” written above a theater marquee frequented by the aforementioned woman with eyeball nipples. It’s at the L.A. theater where men decide to grope her while she’s having a nightmare about the man-spider. “That was supposed to be Paris,” Danzig explained later.
The second short in Verotika is inspired by Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, and involves a woman named Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig) who steals faces from other women (including Courtney Stodden) and nails them to a wall. Like every other woman in the movie, Mystery Girl has very few spoken lines and even less clothes and purpose. Danzig seems hell-bent on achieving one thing in this movie — making his debut even more horny than it is gory. Thus, we get a whopping three drawn-out strip club sequences, all performed by Mystery Girl, which feel as gratuitous as Wiseau’s buck-naked sex scenes in The Room. Something is supposed to be scary about this short, but I’ll never know what.
It was right around the second three-minute stripper sequence when I remembered that Danzig did not use the word funny while introducing his taste in horror. And yet the audience around me was roaring with laughter. I had, up until this point, been a little irritated with Danzig, assuming this movie was the product of an indulgent filmmaker attempting to put forth a wacky, red-corn-syrup-slathered romp with deeper meaning. But as the chuckles in the theater grew more regular, I realized that Danzig did not, in fact, mean to create the horror-comedy of the year, and yet … he maybe did?
As you behold Verotika and all of its curious wonders, Danzig’s profoundly blasé directing style proves funnier and funnier as time wears on: The audience laughed when a camera zoom clearly missed its mark, and when a scene abruptly ended with a fade to black, the actors seemingly uncertain of when to stop acting. One story abruptly jumps to SIX MONTHS LATER, and the line delivery afterward is impeccably bad — I’ve blocked the specific dialogue from becoming lodged in my memory, but I’ll never forget the joy it brought me and hundreds of others in the theater. It was something about the man-spider and sodomy, I think.
After the screening, Danzig confirmed during a Q&A that he did not set out to make a horror-comedy. “You guys laughed at the stuff I wouldn’t have laughed at,” he said. (He was also accompanied by two cops at the time, which seems, um, decidedly not punk.) He hammered his point home most transparently when he described a mirror scene from the third short, “Drukija Countess of Blood.” In it, a countess (Alice Haig) slices virgin necks and drinks their blood then vamps in front of a mirror for about one full minute. It looks like an outtake, with its quirky zooms and Andy Kaufman–like charm. But no, it was meant to be scary. Something about the terror of her drinking the virgin blood. Nevertheless, it made my seatmate convulse with infectious giggles I haven’t witnessed at the theater in months.
Danzig revealed that this was just the beginning for Verotika; the film will be premiering elsewhere at the end of June, and will go on tour in the coming months. So consider this, Mr. Danzig, a plea to go the way of James Nguyen and his Hitchcock-inspired Birdemic. Listen to your audience and its deafening howls. Everyone knows exactly what kind of cult hit this is.